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ESTA in transit: Do I need an ESTA for a layover in the US?

Do you have a trip planned with a stopover in the USA? In that case, you might be wondering what documents you’ll be needing for a US transit.

If you have a layover in the US en route to a third country, you will need an ESTA for transit. The ESTA transit visa waiver is an important entry requirement you will need if you are a transit passenger going through the United States.

The ESTA visa waiver became available in 2009. Since then, all eligible foreign nationals can use the ESTA for transit through the USA eliminating the need to obtain a special US transit visa or to apply via the embassy or consulate.

Read on to find out how to apply for a US transit ESTA and for other useful information for connecting flights through the United States.

Do you need an ESTA to transit through the USA?

If you are a citizen of a visa waiver country and you have a connecting flight in the United States to another country, then yes, you need the ESTA transit authorization.

The process of obtaining a transit ESTA for the USA is fairly simple and takes each applicant a few minutes. The authorization can be requested entirely online without a consular interview nor a visit to a US embassy.

Regardless of the country you are connecting to, as a US transit passenger holding an eligible passport, you need an ESTA in transit.

It is important to apply for the ESTA transit USA at least 72 hours before your trip. Whether you’ll be in the United States in transit for an hour or a day, you are required by immigration authorities to have a valid ESTA.

An ESTA for transit through the United States can be easily obtained by completing an online form.

Bear in mind that the ESTA is electronically linked to your passport. Upon arrival in the US, immigration officers can check whether you have a valid ESTA or not in their system.

How to Apply for a Transit ESTA?

Firstly, as the ESTA is valid for transit through the US, all applicants must ensure they are eligible to apply for the ESTA registration online by checking the necessary ESTA requirements.

Applying online for an ESTA visa waiver is a quick and simple process that requires each applicant to complete an online form with:

  • Personal details
  • Travel information
  • Passport data
  • Basic security questions

It is important to have your biometric passport on hand when filling out the ESTA transit application.

Make sure that all the information entered in the application exactly matches the details on your passport as any errors could cause problems with the application.

When completing the ESTA for transit application,you will come across the question:
“Is your travel to the US occurring in transit to another country?“

It is imperative that all questions are answered truthfully and as accurately as possible. Therefore, choose ‘yes’ when answering this question if you have a connecting flight in the US and your final destination is a different country.

The US Government and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), who manage the ESTA scheme, strongly recommend applying for the ESTA visa waiver at least 72 hours before departure.

Although it is a speedy process, and the USA transit ESTA is usually granted within a few hours, please note that it can occasionally take up to 3 days to receive the approved ESTA.

ESTA visa waiver for US stopovers

Whether in transit to another country through the USA or returning home with a stopover in America, you will need to apply for a US transit visa waiver known as an ESTA.

The US Customs and Border Protection Agency enforces strict requirements for travelers who wish to visit or pass in transit through the USA.

The purpose of the ESTA is to authorize travel to and through the United States. If you are going to have a layover in the United States, you are required to apply for the transit ESTA. However, an approved ESTA authorization does not guarantee entry or transit through the US.

In the rare case that a traveler has an ESTA for transit purposes denied, (more information about the common ESTA refusal reasons) they will have to contact an embassy or consulate and apply for a category B visa, even if they are not planning on staying in the United States.

What is the definition of an ESTA in Transit?

The definition of ESTA for transit is the Electronic System for Travel Authorization which is a visa waiver designed to allow eligible foreign citizens to enter the US as many times as necessary over a period of 2 years.

Each time the traveler enters the USA, they are permitted to stay as long as 90 days but for transit, it can be as short as a few hours. The ESTA is available for tourism, business or transit purposes.

The ESTA program began in 2009 as a way of simplifying and facilitating tourist, business or transit visa application procedures for nationals from the 39 eligible Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries.

Some visa waivers available for tourism, business or transit through the US include the ESTA for UK citizens, the ESTA for Australian citizens, the ESTA Ireland, New Zealand ESTA, as well as most of Europe.

Get the ESTA for US connecting flights

Transit passengers going through the US need to get an ESTA for their connecting flight in the United States before departing from their home country. Immigration officers will check that travelers have a valid ESTA upon arrival.

Once you obtain the ESTA for transit, you will be able to use it for 2 consecutive years, as long as your passport remains current. Therefore, you will not need to obtain a visa every time you need to pass through the US.

Now that you have all the information you need to apply for your ESTA US transit visa, you can get on to planning your next trip.

Can I leave the airport with an in-transit ESTA?

Travelers applying for an ESTA transit visa waiver will come across a question regarding their travel plans. You will be asked to disclose whether you are staying in the US or just passing through en route to a third-country destination.

Your answer to this question does not determine whether you may exit a US airport on an ESTA transit or not.

Regardless of your answer, if you have a valid ESTA, you will be able to leave the airport.

Nevertheless, it is important to consider the following should you choose to exit the airport on an ESTA in transit:

  • You will be required to pick up your luggage
  • You will have to go through immigration and airport security

In order to return to the boarding area to catch your next flight, as a transit passenger going through the US on an ESTA, you will have to:

  • Go through airport security again
  • Check your luggage in
  • Arrive to your gate in time for your next flight

Although the ESTA in transit allows you to go out of the airport, consider the time it may take you to exit and return to the boarding area.

An ESTA in Transit has a 2-year validity and allows multiple layovers in the US as long as your passport remains valid.

The ESTA in transit does not limit the number of times you may transit through the United States nor the duration of the layover.

In the event that your passport expires before the 2 years are over, you will need to apply for a new ESTA using the number on your new passport.

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